Ingrid Skop has been an OB-GYN in South Texas for more than 25 years. She cares deeply about women’s health and has delivered some 5,000 babies. In her current practice, she often treats pregnant and post-abortive women at the emergency department of a hospital in San Antonio.
Given these circumstances, Dr. Skop is uniquely positioned to identify victims of sex trafficking. And she knows it.
“Part of my care of my patients is making sure they are making medical decisions free of coercion,” Dr. Skop says. “Many trafficked women experience unintended pregnancies, and alert doctors serve as an important resource to intervene on behalf of women.”
Public health experts agree. “Healthcare providers are a key element in the identification of human trafficking victims,” reads one document from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Pregnancy is a major risk for sex trafficking victims, and multiple elective abortions are common.”
But Dr. Skop warns that the actions of another federal agency have made her job harder—and the illicit trade of sex traffickers easier.
The FDA is ditching safeguards
In 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lifted the longstanding requirement that chemical abortion drugs be dispensed in person. For the first time, women could receive these drugs by mail (never mind that this violates federal criminal law). Although this action was first spun as a temporary pandemic measure, the FDA quickly made it permanent.
This is just one of many safeguards the FDA has scrapped in recent years. In 2016, it eliminated the requirement that women receive a follow-up visit after a chemical abortion. It also stopped requiring abortionists to report non-fatal complications. Now, since 2021, a woman can obtain and use this dangerous two-drug regimen entirely alone—without once seeing a medical professional or anyone who could intervene on her behalf.
No one has seen the real-world consequences of this disastrous policy more clearly than OB-GYN doctors who work in the ER.
Another doctor who works as an OB-GYN at two hospitals in Indiana says growing numbers of women are coming into the ER with “torrential bleeding” after taking chemical abortion drugs without accurate dating or supervision. She says it’s often the actions of these ER doctors—who had nothing to do with the original abortion—that save a woman’s life.
Dr. Skop shares these safety concerns for women seeking elective abortion. But she also worries about trafficked women. Unlike the rest of the world, most human trafficking reported in the United States is sex trafficking—and most of its victims are women and girls. Thanks to the FDA, if these women or girls become pregnant, they could now be given abortifacient drugs without ever seeing a doctor—and possibly against their will.
Sex trafficking and chemical abortion drugs
Medical and anti-trafficking organizations agree that one “red flag” for human trafficking is a third party who accompanies the patient and won’t allow her to be alone with a treating physician. This type of coercive control is made much easier when the in-person visit is eliminated, and the drugs are dispensed by mail.
“Removing the in-person visit removes an opportunity to identify and rescue these women. It also leaves them at risk of being coerced into an abortion they may not desire,” Dr. Skop says. “The FDA’s actions harm women.”
These doctors are just two of many physicians my law firm is representing in a suit against the FDA. Our lawsuit describes numerous harms the FDA has caused through its reckless and illegal actions. The likely exacerbation of human trafficking is just one of many.
But given the near-universal sentiment against human trafficking—both from the U.S. government and the American people—it’s one of the most disappointing.